Artisan vs industrial bakeries

In France, there are two types of bakery — artisan and non-artisan (aka industrial). Artisan bakeries combine their bread mix on site and never freeze their dough. Bakeries that make up bread off site (even if they bake it on site and even if the mix they use off-site is their own recipe) are not allowed to use the term ‘artisan‘.

Artisan-baked goods tend to have a reputation as being superior to non-artisan treats. Sometimes, they deserve it. Unfortunately, it’s not always the case. You might remember that I recently wrote about how evil the baguette is due to bread-based injuries my friends and I have suffered. There was banter in the comment section about how a decent baguette from an artisinal boulanger would always be suprerior. I disagree entirely.

<Examples of dodgy French artisan bakery treats>Pictured are two treats I’ve purchased from two separate artisan bakeries here in the Aravis region of the French Alps in the past month. That flat thing that looks like a chocolate chip cookie is actually a pain au chocolat. It tasted alright, but it was sold squashed. The photo really doesn’t show just how flat it was. When you’re paying a premium from an artisan product, you kind of expect it to be the shape that even the supermarket bakeries get right. No such luck that day, and no discount.

Not pictured are the croissants that I bought on my way to the piste last month. Eager to attack the fresh snow, my friend and I stopped in at an artisan bakery for a breakfast on the run. We opened our bag on the chairlift and discovered that the croissants were badly burnt. No worries: in an attempt to make it all okay, the baker had lacquered the entire outside of each croissant in sugar syrup. So, now we had sweet croissants with a burnt after taste. Yum…

Back to the photos. The croix de Savoie is a local product that is sold with pride. In Haute Savoie, it’s a brioche (sweet bread) in the shape of a cross, with custard baked inside and lumps of sugar on top. It’s the Savoyarde equivalent of a custard scroll. I’m not quite sure what happened to this one. I’m sure it hadn’t been baked that day. To call it solid would be too kind. It was so bad, I threw the rest away. Not just stale, the bread was tasteless and the tiny hint of custard was dry and impossible to distinguish from the bread.

In my previous post about bread, Le Panier took a battering for not being artisan and therefore not providing a decent baguette. Strangely enough, this is my favourite bakery for lots of reasons. First of all, I’ve never thrown out one of their products, nor been disappointed by the taste or appearance. Secondly, they don’t close at midday, when people are hungry and want to buy bread. Finally — and most importantly — they’re forward thinking: new products appear regularly; organic bread and healthy options are available; and, the staff actually smile. It’s taken me three years to get a smile out of the local baker lady here in St Jean de Sixt. I had an entire one-way conversation with myself in the other local bakery, where the woman said nothing. Nothing! She didn’t even bother telling me how much I needed to pay. I wished myself a nice day and left.

For all the prestige that goes with artisan bread, I’ll take that dodgy factory bread any day. Who is with me?

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I'm a technical author, journalist and writer from Australia who has been living in Europe since 2000 and exploring the world from there. My passions are writing, snow sports and travel.

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6 comments on “Artisan vs industrial bakeries
  1. Jayne says:

    I’m all for supporting local artisans. But I have to say that having a gluten intolerance but loving my toast and needing to chomp on sandwiches regularly during the week, I have recently experimented with bog standard supermarket brown bread known as “Pain de Mie” and it works! I feel ashamed to have to buy this sort of supermarket cardboard but it works for me and stays “fresh” all week. Before I moved, I used to stop off at the Boulangerie des Aravis on the way out of Thones to get my Pain au Chocolat. Gorgeous. But now I have moved I now buy each Sat morning 5x pain au chocolat at the local bakery chain “Boulangerie Chevallier”. They offer a free one for each 5 bought. They are delish. I freeze them and defrost each morning to munch on in the car going to work. The staff and their products are lovely and seem to be in the middle ground between the Artisan’s and the supermarket (dire stuff) so I am happy. I would love to support a local Artisan again if there was one around here but there isn’t and nowadays doing the 45hrs plus working week, I need convenience and am more than happy with the “chain”….

  2. Jacqui says:

    We are so lucky in our small village, we only have one boulangerie, but the croissants and pain au chocolat are always uniformly plump, fluffy and crispy, never over cooked. Although no fancy bread selections they are all delicious. Mr et Mme are so friendly I have been known to spend half an hour on a Sunday morning buying the croissants and foret noires and I was the only customer in the shop!
    Jacqui recently posted…French Brasserie Cookbook Terrine de PorcMy Profile

  3. sally says:

    I can’t eat factory made bread – the fast production method leaves me totally bloated & ill (look up ‘The Chorelywood process’)

    La Fourre a Bois in St Jean makes wonderful bread & I really envy you having that on your doorstep! Send me a campagne loaf anytime you want!

    And they’ve always been really friendly to me when I’ve been visiting & going in for my daily bread!

    Still loving your blog!

    XXX

  4. Ron Rundle says:

    Yes and no, Wendy. I think, on the whole, artisan bakers and bread have been alright by me. Some of the boulangers/eres are even friendly and chatty. And my French is atrocious! Bread from a Shopi (when the boulageries were closed) was awful. But bread from a little SuperU was very good. So I prefer to try my luck at the artisan bakers first.

  5. Mandy says:

    Oh no, I think by definition artisan goods should be better so poor artisanship is simply not acceptable!!!

  6. Wendy says:

    Glad to see so many varying opinions, but I have to agree with Mandy on this one. If you’re paying the higher price, you want a quality product that beats the non-artisan products. Sally, one of the photos above came from that very bakery! Most of the time, it is indeed fantastic and very, very tasty.

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